Cincy-Columbus-Cleveland? Ohio begins planning for intercity rail

The notion of intercity rail connecting Ohio’s major cities is one step closer to reality.
Amtrak releases images of new trains, set to debut in 2026.
Amtrak releases images of new trains, set to debut in 2026.(Amtrak)
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 5:52 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Ohio has officially thrown its hat in the ring of future passenger rail expansion across the U.S.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday directed the Ohio Rail Development Commission to apply for a federal grant program created to guide the development of intercity rail lines country-wide.

The application reflects a first-phase attempt to get funding for a preliminary study of two possible corridors: Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati (the “3Cs route”); and Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit.

But it also signals Ohio’s future participation in a long-term development effort that will determine the pipeline of capital projects for federal funding going forward.

“This is the first step of many in this process. We have a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make any commitments,” DeWine said. “The information we gather from this effort will help us make informed decisions about federal opportunities for passenger rail in Ohio.”

Some $500,000 is available per corridor from the Federal Railroad Administration. The money come from a first-of-its-kind Corridor Identification and Development program created under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Joe Biden signed in November 2021.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose noted “extensive” interest in the Corridor ID program when the agency began accepting proposals from states in December. The application window ends in March.

“With President Biden’s infrastructure investments, we have an opportunity to support new and expanded intercity passenger rail corridors and develop a national strategy to make rail transportation more available and reliable, boosting economies, growing jobs, and creating new connections to move people and goods with ease,” Bose said.

The FRA will prioritize proposals that bring “tangible public benefits,” according to the agency’s guidance. It will take into account “the readiness of the corridor to commence development under the Corridor ID Program (including the demonstrated level of commitment to the development, implementation, and operation of the corridor).”

The FRA will also place “special emphasis will be paid to projects that benefit rural and underserved communities. Proposed corridors should make regional travel more sustainable and reduce congestion, boost local economies and create jobs, among other benefits.”

Matthew Dietrich, executive director of the ORDC, says the commission, under DeWine’s direction, has held talks with Amtrak “for quite some time” to explore the possibility of intercity rail.

“The governor has been very clear that for this to work for Ohio, it is not just a matter of cost,” Dietrich said. “It has to be done in a way that does not impede freight rail traffic in the state that is so important to our economy and our businesses.”

The full selection criteria can be found below.

If Ohio’s application succeeds, the FRA funds would allow Ohio to bring in a consultant to define the scope of a comprehensive plan detailing what will be needed to start service.

The plan will assess needed track improvements, equipment, stations and other facilities, operating costs, state subsidies and project ridership. It will function as a corridor’s long-range planning document.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) applauded DeWine and local leaders for getting the process started. One of the BIL’s authors, Brown is now working with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to ensure Ohio “gets its fair share, or more.”

Said Brown, “Expanding Amtrak in Ohio, whether along current routes or by connecting Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, would transform our state’s economy and improve mobility for all Ohioans. I will continue to fight to make Ohio’s transit more reliable and efficient so more Ohioans can access employment and education opportunities across the state.”

Selection Criteria

Quoted in full from the federal register citing the authorizing legislation.

In selecting intercity passenger rail corridors for participation in the Corridor ID Program, the secretary must consider 14 criteria, as follows:

(1) Whether the route was identified as part of a regional or interregional planning study;

(2) The projected ridership, revenues, capital investment, and operating funding requirements;

(3) The anticipated environmental, congestion mitigation, and other public benefits;

(4) The projected trip times and their competitiveness with other transportation modes;

(5) The anticipated positive economic and employment impacts;

(6) The committed or anticipated non-Federal funding for operating and capital costs;

(7) The benefits to rural communities;

(8) Whether the corridor is included in a State’s approved State rail plan;

(9) Whether the corridor serves historically unserved or underserved and low-income communities or areas of persistent poverty;

(10) Whether the corridor would benefit or improve connectivity with existing or planned transportation services of other modes;

(11) Whether the corridor connects at least 2 of the 100 most populated metropolitan areas;

(12) Whether the corridor would enhance the regional equity and geographic diversity of intercity passenger rail service;

(13) Whether the corridor is or would be integrated into the national rail passenger transportation system and would create benefits for other passenger rail routes and services; and

(14) Whether a passenger rail operator has expressed support for the corridor.

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